American Splendor Reviews
Harvey Pekar is a wonderfully rich character, and I kept watching it thinking of him as a blend of Art Spiegelman and Larry David; Paul Giamatti is perfectly cast.
"Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff."
American Splendor is a very inventive and original biography. The movie jumps through time with its character, Harvey Peckar, a struggling comic writer who has an everyday job as well. He decides to start writing his own comics about everyday life and what he encounters in the world and then he has friends do the illustrations for him. He gets famous, he gets on Letterman, but it isn't something that is going to make him rich.
The movie is narrated by the real Harvey Peckar and we are shown glimpses of him being interviewed. The man reminds me of a Woody Allen character, and if Allen was a comic book writer, the two would pretty much be the same. The film gets a little overly artsy at times, but I still managed to really like its creativity. I love independent films like this one that really think outside the box.
Obviously the movie is going to be well acted when Paul Giammati is in the lead role. He makes Peckar his own and gives a great performance. Giammati has a knack for roles like this and he never disappoints.
I've never read a Peckar comic, but this movie definitely has gotten me interested in his work. American Splendor is a really good biography and a breath of fresh air when it comes to watching all of the typical biographies that come out all the time.
An original mix of fiction and reality illuminates the life of comic book hero everyman Harvey Pekar.
Excellent comedy/drama/autobiography/comic-book adaptation/documentary of disgruntled Cleveland based Harvey Pekar (Giamatti in an uncanny Oscar caliber turn), a curmudgeonly comic book artist who incorporates his loser existence as a low-level file clerk of a Veterans Hospital gains pop culture/underground hero status after his semi-autobiographical creation 'Ameican Splendor' takes off with some critical acclaim and cult status. The film follows his gradual climb into the quasi-mainstream with his friendship with celebrated cartoonist Robert Crumb (equally uncanny Urbaniak), his unlikely spouse Joyce Brabner (Davis equally fine in a barely recognizable turn deglammed not unlike Cameron Diaz in 'Being John Malkovich') and his frequent guest spots on 'Late Night with David Letterman' cementing his reputation as an unsavory cranky Everyman. Wisely filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini allow the fourth wall to be broken down and let the real-life subjects address their narration as well as the proceedings at hand with their motley assortment of friends and co-workers. Giamatti's frequent furrowed brow/scowl, gravelly voice and question mark posture also miraculously shows the less nasty side of Pekar to escape during his bout with cancer and acceptance of family values.
There are some minor chuckles to be had here, but I took nothing away from the movie except a vague feeling of frustration. I didn't learn about the plight of an anti-social artist; those processes were not deepened or illuminated any way. All I did see was a trapped, angry man who thoughtlessly burned all his bridges for no real reason, except just to be a contrary grump. Paul Giamatti is great here, and successfully add a dash of leavening anguish to the movie's general atmosphere of chained-up rage once the cancer plot rolls around.
If there's one sensation I don't like to feel when I'm watching a film, it's frustration. If you're frustrated FOR a character, that's fine; it means that the film is most likely doing its job. If you're frustrated BECAUSE of a character, it's either because that character is meant to or because they're just irritating. Harvey Pekar is presented here as an contrarian, sure, and I'm sure American Splendor doesn't mean to venerate his actions or artificially warm him to the audience. I don't think the film gave me enough to let me develop a positive opinion of him, in the end. It's good that it's trusting enough of a viewer's critical thought to not force him down our throat, but I still consider American Splendor a failure. It is 100 minutes of a man I never want to meet again.